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The History of Stamps

The first stamps came out on July 1, 1847. The 5-cent stamp featured Ben Franklin and the 10-cent stamp featured George Washington. Some historians credit the concept of placing a stamp on a letter to a man named Rowland Hill, a British reformer and educator who helped overhaul the British postal system. In the United States, stamp use was pioneered by U.S. Postmaster General Cave Johnson, who convinced Congress that stamps would increase postal revenues. For the first five years following the introduction of federal stamps, the public remained skeptical. Why? Before stamps, the federal postal system delivered mail on a postage due system – to claim a letter, the addressee had to pay the postage. Stamps shifted the payment responsibility to the person mailing the letter instead, and at the time, a stamped or prepaid letter could be seen as an insult because it implied that the addressee could not pay for receipt of the letter. (Rates were often extremely expensive, so this would have been a real concern.) However, stamps introduced a uniform rate system that was much more reasonable, and in 1855, Congress passed a law making the use of stamps compulsory. In 1863, regular free home delivery finally began. Mailboxes replaced the task of going to the post office to pick up a letter, which especially helped women, who were not always able to go to male-dominated local post offices without social fallout.

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